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US withdrawal from Afghanistan ‌ has negative effects on India

At a time when US president Donald Trump is holding peace talks with the Taliban terrorists and has decided to withdraw 7,000 troops in the next few months, 40 CRPF personnel were killed in one of the deadliest terrorist attacks carried out by the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) in Pulwama.  

While Indian security forces have killed the three main terrorists behind the Pulwama attack and the Indian government is weighing all possible options to dismantle terror outfits operating against India from across the border, this attack has once again reinforced the fact that the language of peace cannot be an effective tool to deal with terrorists.    

In fact, ever since the Trump administration started peace talks with the Taliban, there were apprehensions in India, the US and elsewhere that such efforts would only embolden the Taliban.

Sure, it was during the Obama administration that the US decided to hold talks with the Taliban and during the 2016 presidential election campaign, Trump too promised to end the war in Afghanistan.

Interestingly, the Trump Administration’s South Asia Policy released in 2017 underscored the need for US troops to stay on in Afghanistan. In fact, on the issue of promoting peace, security, stability and development in Afghanistan, Trump’s South Asia Policy mentioned that the US will deploy more troops in Afghanistan without fixing a timeline for the return of US forces. 

However, over a year later in July 2018, President Trump shifted his position on Afghanistan issue with the intention of clinching a deal with the Taliban. It would give the US a morally legitimate reason to withdraw its troops. 

At the same time, Russia and China’s efforts to hold talks with the Taliban was seen by the US as a major geo-strategic threat to its interests in the region. 

While the possible re-emergence of the Taliban is being seen as the onset of another phase of darkness for that blighted country, for India, which has always supported the “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled,” process with participation of the elected government in Kabul, peace talks between the US and the Taliban and Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops, now pose serious security challenges.

Ever since reconstruction work began in Afghanistan, India has invested over $3 billion building roads, hospitals, schools, providing training, arms and fighter aircraft to the Afghan armed forces. 

Taliban’s arrival on the center stage will not only put India’s economic interests at stake in Afghanistan, it will also pose a huge security threat to India because Pakistan’s prominence in Afghanistan will increase and Islamabad could use the Taliban against Indians there.  

Since Russia has also moved to improve ties with Pakistan and is more than keen to play an important role in Afghanistan’s internal affairs, as evident from Moscow’s own peace talks with the Taliban last year, the possible emergence of a strategic China-Russia-Pakistan axis along the Taliban, could jeopardise India’s position. 

The Pulwama attack has only validated India’s security concerns. Counter-terrorism experts in the US have argued that it has highlighted the utter failure of the Trump administration in pressurising Pakistan to act against terrorist organisations operating from its soil.

They have also argued that the ISI must have helped JeM in carrying out the Pulwama attack. Afghanistan has also complained to the UN Security Council against Pakistan’s recent engagement with the Taliban.

While US National Security Adviser John Bolton has told his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval that America supports India’s right to self defence, with both sides reaffirming to work together to ensure that Pakistan ceases to be a safe haven for the JeM and other terror outfits, it remains to be seen how the Trump administration fulfills such promises. 

At the same time, the Indian government needs to give up the tag of a soft-power state and take long-lasting punitive action against terrorist organizations and the country whose only aim is to destabilize India.